Previously known as Antwerp Castle, Het Steen gained its current name in around 1520, after significant rebuilding under Charles V. The rebuilding led to it being known first as "'s Heeren Steen" (the King's Stone), and later simply as "Het Steen" (The Stone). The Dutch word "Steen" means "stone", and is used for "castle" or "fortress", as in the "Gravensteen" in Ghent, Belgium.
The castle made it possible to control the access to the Schelde, the river that flows through Antwerp. It was also used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. This was not the noblest time of existence of the Steen Castle. Captivity itself was not punishment - the prison was where you awaited your sentence. Very popular punishment available was; chopping of hands, heads and/or burning and quartering. The prison’s regime was not a very honest one. The rich were logged in the right wing and the poor in the left wing of the castle.
Part of the castle was later demolished to make the roads to connect the south and the north part of the port. The remaining building contains a shipping museum, with outside on displayed on the quay, some real old canal barges.
In 1890 ‘Het Steen’ became the museum of archeology and in 1952 an annex was added to house the museum of the Antwerp maritime history. Here you’ll also find a war memorial to the Canadian soldiers in WWII.
At the entrance to Het Steen is a bas-relief of Semini, above the archway, circa 2nd century. Semini is the Scandinavian God for youth and fertility (with symbolic phallus). A historical plaque near Het Steen explains that women of the town appealed to Semini when they desired children; the god was reviled by later religious clergy. Inhabitants of Antwerp previously referred to themselves as "children of Semini". An organization affiliated with historic preservation of Het Steen and Semini, Antwerp Komitee Semini in Ere (AKSIE), formed in 1986, holds annual celebrations at Het Steen as cultural events.